Rapper, singer, songwriter, and actor will.i.am is perhaps best known as the frontman of pop-rap supergroup the Black Eyed Peas. What you may not know, however, is that the multitalented artist has a penchant for working with cutting-edge technology companies—and his latest venture will take him to the skies.
On Tuesday, flying car company Jetson Aero, manufacturer of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) Jetson One personal aircraft, closed a $15 million seed funding round headed by will.i.am and “pioneering angel investors from around the world,” including Jetson board director Luca Spada and senior board adviser Rikard Steiber.
The investment will support Jetson One’s eventual launch and see will.i.am, a Jetson customer, train to become one of the first flying car pilots in the world. As the Black Eyed Peas song goes: “Let’s Get It Started.”
“I’m proud to be a part of the Jetson family and support the company’s mission to democratize flight, opening the skies to all,” the artist said in a statement. “Personal aircraft ideal for short point-to-point flights will soon be a reality.”
Jetson said the seed round is a precursor to the firm’s launch of a Series A financing campaign, which will support its stated mission to democratize flight and “make everyone a pilot.” Stéphan D’haene, CEO of Jetson, said the company’s approach to the urban air mobility (UAM) market leverages Jetson One’s ability to fit into existing regulatory frameworks, akin to the FAA’s Innovate28 plan for early eVTOL operations.
“This may be the biggest opportunity in aviation since the Wright brothers took flight,” said D’haene, who previously spent a decade working in Bombardier’s recreational products division. “Today, there is an existing market that is a profitable business for a single-seat recreational aircraft. We are starting the first shipments already next year and will open our [Series] A round soon to accelerate our growth.”
Jetson One’s design was inspired by race cars, with a lightweight aluminum space frame and a Carbon-Kevlar composite body. The aircraft uses simple joystick controls and relies on a flight computer to stabilize it in the air, which the company claims allows any prospective customer to learn to fly it in a matter of minutes.
The eVTOL is powered by eight electric motors running on high discharge lithium-ion batteries. This configuration gives it a 20-minute flight time and a top speed of 63 mph (55 knots), making it best suited for short hops.
Whether or not it can be considered accessible depends on the customer. In its current form, Jetson One cannot be flown by a pilot weighing more than 210 pounds, limiting taller or heavier users. And with a $98,000 price tag, the model is more expensive than many single-seat ultralight aircraft already on the market, which can cost as little as $8,000. That figure is what around 300 Jetson customers paid down just to reserve their serial numbers.
Jetson builds its aircraft at a production and research and development facility in Arezzo, Italy. About 50 miles to the northwest, just outside Florence, the company operates a private airfield containing an industrial facility and a 2,600-foot airstrip, which it uses for daily flight testing. The airfield is also home to a customer experience center and pilot school.
By 2024, the company hopes to have expanded to the U.S. market. It’s weighing several locations for its future U.S. headquarters. Meanwhile, Tomasz Patan, Jetson co-founder and chief technology officer, is expected to conduct the company’s first U.S. test flights later this month.
“Jetson is on a mission to redefine the future of air mobility and transportation,” Patan told FLYING. “We are enabling new and exciting ways of travel, which will solve many problems, ultimately making our cities a much better place to live. I think the U.S. market is a great opportunity for Jetson.”
Boom Boom Pow
The involvement of will.i.am is arguably the most fascinating piece of Jetson’s investment.
The artist made a name for himself with the Black Eyed Peas. But between the group’s split in 2011 and reunion in 2015, he reinvented himself as a tech entrepreneur and creative consultant.
“Leveraging his early experience in the consumer electronics industry, will.i.am has continued to launch a range of his own tech-based companies focused on software and operating systems incorporating AI, natural language understanding, voice computing, creativity & productivity, customer-service apps, as well as consumer-tech products,” reads a description on the i.am Angel Foundation website.
The foundation, launched in 2009, supports K-12 science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education programs for more than 12,000 disadvantaged youth in Southern California. The actor and musician is also a board member of FIRST Robotics Competition, an annual international high school robotics contest.
In 2011, will.i.am was named director of creative innovation at Intel, where he advised the development of technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. He has also served as chief creative officer of 3D printing firm 3D Systems since 2014 and has worked as a futurist and creative adviser for companies such as Honeywell, General Electric, and AirAsia.
He is the owner of machine learning company Sensiya and Internet of Things (IoT) platform Wink and is also a member of several World Economic Forum committees focused on technology. The artist has even worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with which he partnered in 2012 to become the first artist to stream a song from the surface of Mars.
Now, will.i.am will look to make history again by becoming one of the world’s first flying car pilots. And while his seed funding contribution to Jetson was a one-time investment, the Black Eyed Peas frontman has made several multimillion-dollar investments and acquisitions over the past decade. Perhaps he’ll continue to give flying cars a lift.